Photo: Esteban Calderon
Carla Morrison Talks 'Renacimineto,' Her Comeback, Performing At The 2020 Latin GRAMMYs & More
It was never in Carla Morrison’s plans to make a comeback in 2020, but the pandemic changed it all. The GRAMMY-nominated singer-songwriter from Tecate, Mexico, who rose to the spotlight with her heartbreaking Spanish-language records, stopped making music for some years after realizing she wasn’t happy. In that time, she moved to Paris where she began to spend time in museums and learned a lot about herself—both as an artist and as a woman. She also thought of new music inspired by her newfound empowerment and new home, but didn’t see herself releasing it this year.
"When COVID hit, I thought, 'Oh, my God, I have this song called "Ansiedad" and I think it would be good for people to listen to this and I think it would be good to put music out now,''" she recently told GRAMMY.com via Zoom. "It was something that I already had in mind, but then it came to life because I wanted people to use my story as a mirror for the times that we're living right now."
"Ansiedad," or "anxiety," is one single off her new four-part project, which also features her latest track, "No Me Llames," or "don’t call me." The project touches on mental health, self-love, well-being and empowerment. Musically speaking, her revival leaves behind the sad, slow-tempo love songs she’s known for and experiments with upbeat pop sounds. The songs—together called Renacimineto, or "rebirth," a name inspired by the renaissance paintings she spent time learning about during museum visits—tell "the story of how, when I went through a very dark time, I still came out in a better way," she said.
She hopes the project is able to "give something to people," too.
"This time, it's been a very hard time for everybody. For me, it's been a very hard time, even though I was already in a pause in my life, it's still ... It paused me even more than some,” she shared. "So I do feel like we can take that narrative back and be like, 'OK, what do I want to do with this?' Because it's hard to imagine yourself in a rebirth when it's all very sad, but I do feel like this is teaching us a lesson, and we just have to get the best of it."
Through her performance alongside Puerto Rican icon Ricky Martin at the 2020 Latin GRAMMYs this Thursday (Nov. 19), she hopes she will inspire people as well: "I do believe that anything that I do becomes full of purpose when it can mean something to somebody else."
Morrison spoke to GRAMMY.com about working with Martin on their song, “Recuerdo,” the ways her time away from the music industry helped her grow, the importance of mental health conversations in the biz and more.
You took some time off from music-making. What did that time away from the industry do for you?
Oh, well, it did wonders. I feel like I was always constantly on the road and just working a lot. I was just on tour a lot, and making albums, doing interviews, and music. And so for a couple of years—I'd probably say like a year, a year and a half, I started to feel very depressed and just sad. I was afraid of making that decision of taking some time off, but I did feel like it was important. It was something that had to happen. And so when I went into my break, and just took time for myself, I discovered a lot of things that I hadn't discovered of myself before. I think before an artist, I'm a human, and I do have to say that because I do feel like a lot of us artists do devote our lives to just our art, and that's our way of living, and that's beautiful, obviously, and it's very healing.
But many times, we do put our personal life on the side. And when you do that, you start to feel unhappy. And so taking a step back from the industry really helped me to appreciate what the industry gives me, what the music gives me, what my fans gave me, what my music gives me because I wasn't seeing clearly. And so everything was ... I was just annoyed all the time. I was just mad. I was like a baby that hasn't slept. I was just mad and anxious, and depressed and tired. Taking a step back gave me the opportunity to recollect myself and just know who I was. And also, I was 32 at the time, and my crisis started around 31. So I do feel like it also [was because of] my 30-year-old crisis where it's like, "Who am I now?" There's a switch that goes off, and then there's another switch that goes on that you start worrying about things that you've never worried about before. I feel like [my break] gave me a lot of depth as to who I was and what I wanted to stand for.
You've been on a few panels revolving around mental health. Do you want to make mental health conversations more normalized in the music community?
Yeah ... I like this part of thinking that your artists are perfect and mysterious, and they have their shit together. I think that's always very, just like, "Oh, wow. How awesome?" You admire your artists in so many other ways, but at the same time, I do feel like it's not real. And so it's not that I want a pity party for me. I don't want people to think like, "Oh pobrecita. [Laughs.] She's trying so hard." No, I don't want that.
I want people to just know that even though you reach goals in your life, if you don't have yourself, you've got nothing. If you don't find yourself ... You can have everything that you've dreamed of: you can have the best boyfriend or girlfriend, the best career and be doing the greatest things. But if you don't have yourself, if you don't have a relationship with yourself, you don't have anything. You go home and you feel empty. And when you feel empty, it's because you haven't had those connections with yourself, those moments, times where you're spending time with yourself.
I think in the world we live in now, where a lot of things are being talked about and being discussed, I do feel like mental health is something that in Latin America, for example, is something that is not normally discussed. When you talk about your feelings or your anxieties, it's taken as a fragile, negative thing, and I don't think being fragile means ... It's not something negative. I think it's something positive when you accept that you need help, or that you're just not having a good time. So yeah, it's like, for people to know, even though I've done many great things in my life, and I'm grateful, there are still hard times, and it gets easier ... Life is hard for everybody and it's just good to talk about it.
So when you decided to come back, you came back with this amazing four-part project. We've been able to see two parts of it. What are you addressing through it?
Well, really, this was actually thought of before COVID and before everything. It was something that I wanted to bring back because when I moved to Paris, I started to do a lot of local things in the city. One of the things that I really liked was taking time to go to museums and really study—not only the culture, but art in itself. I saw myself a lot in a lot of paintings in the Renaissance era and [in how] when the Renaissance era happened, it was because a lot of people wanted to take their time to see life from a different perspective. I thought, "Oh, my God. I want to call my new album, "El Renacimiento." And then when COVID hit, I thought, "Oh, my God, I have this song called 'Ansiedad' and I think it would be good for people to listen to this and I think it would be good to put music out now." It was something that I already had in mind, but then it came to life because I wanted people to use my story as a mirror for the times that we're living right now.
I do feel like a lot of us feel sad and very uncertain about the future, but I do feel like this time is allowing us to have an opportunity to really re-evaluate our life and our priorities and our goals, and we can come out on the other side in a more positive light, and so I wanted to present it that way. So "Ansiedad" is me accepting my issues and what I have to work on, and "No Me Llames" is taking charge of the toxic sh*t that was in my life that I wanted to get away from.
The third and the fourth follow the Renacimineto era in a way where I'm coming back to myself and allowing myself to be happy again. On this album, I'm talking about a lot of mental health ... Not a lot of mental health, but a lot of realizations that I had, that I was like, "I don't just want to talk about heartbreak. I want to talk about other things that a woman my age lives and goes through." I don't only get heartbroken. I doubt myself, I feel depressed, I fall in love, I feel sexy, I feel all sorts of different ways. And not only as a woman, but as Carla. I feel like a lot of people think that I'm home crying to a boyfriend, and I'm not just that. I've been in an eight-year, beautiful relationship. I'm in a good place. It's just that I do tend to be very passionate and I like to sing about love. So it was more being motivated about the times that we're living.
I've always felt like if my music has a purpose, that's the only way it can exist. I love it when my music can give something to people. Ever since day one, when I decided to make music, it was always to give voice to the voiceless. It was always for people to feel like, "Oh, my God. She just said what I've been wanting to say and I didn't know how to articulate"—kind of like that. And so Renacimiento comes from that and also from telling the story of how, when I went through a very dark time, I still came out in a better way.
How does it feel to have the two parts out now?
Well, the first two acts [being out], it feels good. To be honest, I was a little worried, but not in a worried way as in, "Oh, my God." Worried as in, "Oh, [I'm] interested in how people were going to react." Because, in the past, I've been bullied for so many reasons, for my weight, for my tats, for speaking my mind, for just so many things. When I came out in the scene back in 2009, I was such a different artist from all the other ones—my weight, so many things. A lot of people loved me and a lot of people hated me. That was something that years later, it really broke my heart, and it really fucked up ... It fucked with my soul in a way. I don't want to have fuck and soul in the same sentence, but I do feel like it did really break me. [It] made me really doubt who I was as an artist and as a person.
So I was a little scared, but not in a way that it was going to hurt me anymore, because I had already done the soul-searching, but it was more like, "Hmm, what's going to happen?", because I've always been bullied for any f*****g reason. And when I came out with the two acts, I felt like ... First of all, I felt like people were very happy, like I was missed, and I was very loved and celebrated. I felt a lot of love. It feels very exciting to be in a place where I feel like, not that I'm more accepted, but that there's a place where I can exist. Because before, I don't want to sound like, "Oh, I was the first one," because I don't think I was the first one, but I do feel like as an independent artist, I was one of the first ones that had mainstream success, but I wasn't signed. Also, my tattoos, the way I was writing, the way I was singing, a lot of things that were very different.
Now, there's a space where that is more normal. So it feels exciting to be like, "Oh, it feels good to feel celebrated because this is who I've been all this time, but, OK." And then on the music side, I also feel like people were very accepting and very excited about the new change. At the same time, I don't give a f**k anymore. If they like it, que bueno. I'm all about people liking my music. That's why I do it. But if people are like, "No, I really liked it when you were sadder or you did guitar," and whatever, then I guess we'll meet again at some point, but I'm not doing it for that. I'm just doing it for people who need to listen to this kind of music. And it feels refreshing, it feels healing, it feels like, como un circle.
You've released some awesome videos along with the songs. How much of your vision is a part of the music videos and the visual component?
To be honest, first, we were just going to release the songs, but then I wanted to release the videos because, to me, it was important for it to have this visual form. And so I contacted Colin Solal who is a French videographer. And this guy, I showed him "Ansiedad" [and] he showed me the treatment for "Ansiedad" and then I showed him the other songs, and so he made this idea about a film. And he got it based on the story I told him, like, "OK, this is my story. This is why I live in Paris. This is why I left the music and this is why I'm coming back."
And so I feel like I wasn't part of ... I was part of it, but what I'm saying is that, when he came with the concept to me, I didn't even feel like I had to be like, "Hey," because he got it so clear from the start. It was like, "Oh my God, I love it. Yes, let's do it." I was just so happy. And so I just trusted the whole process to him, but it was him getting my story. What I told him, he made it into a musical film, and so that was super exciting. And I love his taste. I love everything. I've always been very engaged in everything that I do with my music, but this time, I feel like I've been very detailed, and very into it, even on image-wise, or just the concept and the message.
It goes beyond the Renacimiento. I want to speak to women that look like me, that are like me—Mexicanas, Latinas that feel like, "No, I could never look like a million bucks," and [then they] see me and be like, "I can f*****g look like a million bucks if I try and if I really do my research ... " I'm not saying I'm worth a million bucks, but what I'm saying is that, you put so much detail into what you do that it can look like that. And you can look as valuable and as beautiful as you want to look. And I feel like it's something that sometimes us Latinos, we've been looked down sometimes so much for so many generations that we don't feel like we could do that. And I'm not saying everybody. I'm just saying many of us, and I'm one of those included. And so when I actually took the time and I said, "No, I want this to be right. I want it to be done in the right way. I wanted to have my concept better," I do feel like with the videos, with the pictures, with everything, it's amazing for it to be more profound than just cualquier cosita.
You're going to release two more parts of the project. Are they also something that you came about before COVID? Or are you getting inspired also by the moment?
They were before COVID, but they're definitely being inspired by the moment because they do this, like, story, as in you go through bad times and then you start to gain your love back and then you take the power back, and you say, "OK, this is who I am now, and I'm ready to go back into the world and be myself again, and just a better version of myself." And I do feel like this time, it's been a very hard time for everybody. For me, it's been a very hard time, even though I was already in a pause in my life, it's still ... It paused me even more than some. So I do feel like we can take that narrative back and be like, "OK, what do I want to do with this?" Because it's hard to imagine yourself in a rebirth when it's all very sad, but I do feel like this is teaching us a lesson, and we just have to get the best of it.
Has it been hard for you to be creative? Or how has this experience affected your creativity?
It has been hard. I feel like, in some ways, it focuses me a lot because ... I can't do many things, so I have to really focus and study and do different things for me to accomplish certain goals. But at the same time, sometimes it's just hard to focus. It's hard to focus because you're at home and you're just like, "Ah." And you're worried about not getting the virus, you're worried about other people, you're worried about your future, you're worried about, "How the fuck am I going to do this?" You're just worried, and it just feels very gray, and it can be very, like "f***, man." I want to write a love song, but I feel stupid writing a love song right now. And then, I want to write a sad song, but why would I make anybody even sadder? And so you're just like, "Ah." So it's been hard, but I do feel like it's normal. I just have to accept it.
Have you been spending most of your time during the pandemic in Paris?
Yeah, I've been living in Paris for two years
What's something that you love about Paris?
Oh, I love everything about Paris. Paris changed my life completely. I feel like one of the things that I like about Paris and France is just the culture. They do value a lot of, like, going out and hanging out with your friends, having picnics and having some wine and just enjoy life, sit down at coffee places and people-watch and really go and have a coffee and just have a coffee. Not your laptop, not your phone, just be there and enjoy the moment ...
Also, one of the things that I really like about Paris is that they do value arts. If you're a writer, it's like, "Oh, OK." Nobody says like, "Oh no, but what's your real job?" Nobody says that. It's like, "Oh, you're a singer. Oh, OK," and that's it. They take it seriously. Or, "You're a painter. Oh wow, OK." It just feels so nice to feel seen and to feel valued, and to be taken seriously ... So I love so many things about Paris. The food, just the city ... It's a big city, and it could be dirty and whatever and people can be rude and cold, but honestly, Paris is a dream. It's a dream.
That's awesome. I also wanted to touch on the Latin GRAMMYs where you're going to perform alongside the legend, Ricky Martin. What will the performance mean to you?
It means a lot. It means a lot because I'm from Tecate [, Mexico.] And Tecate's a small town and I would have never in my life dreamt even about being a un lado de Ricky, not even standing-wise, like, "Hey." So to be there singing a song that we wrote together and that we collaborated on that's on his album is, to me, the most beautiful message I can give to anybody that wants to dream and to wants to dream big. I do believe that anything that I do becomes full of purpose when it can mean something to somebody else.
And to me, it just means a lot, because I remember when I was very, very young, and I would see Julieta Venegas on TV, on MTV, and I knew she was from Tijuana, and I remember thinking to myself, "Oh my God. She's from Tijuana. I can be a star, too, if I wanted to." I could see myself in her shoes, and she was from Tijuana and now I'm from Tecate. Tecate's so small. It's beautiful, and I love my little Tecate, but it's small. And so to me, it means a lot to be there and to also be reminded how an iconic legend from the Latin music industry believes in my music and believes in my voice and likes my writing and, I don't know, trusts me with his talent. To be honest, it's like a GRAMMY to me.
Did you come together and come up with the theme? Or was Ricky like, "I have this idea. Can you add to it?"
Yeah, it was like that. "I have this idea, I love your voice, I love your music, I would love for us to collaborate." And I was like, "OK, what do you want to write about?" And we kept going back and forth and I would send him ideas and he was like, "Yes. Yes, exactly." And it was so easy because he's also just a very kind person. At first, I was like, "Oh my God. Ricky." And I forgot about it because he was just so nice. I was like, "Oh my God. Es super buena onda" ... It was really, really cool. It was all through Zoom, so I actually just met him two hours ago and it was beautiful. He was just amazing. He's like a dream.
Is there anything you can tell us about the performance?
The only thing I can tell you is that it's super special and it's beautiful, and even though it's in the middle of the pandemic, it's really special and he looks amazing and the song is beautiful. I think something very special is coming out of it. Even though, like I said, there's no audience or anything, it's beautiful.